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Minor Computer Flaw Frees State Prisoners 268

Posted by Zonk
from the prisoners-develope-interest-in-coding dept.
Ruvim writes "A Michigan State audit shows a software glitch let some prisoners get out early. From the article: 'The audit report shows errors in the release dates of 23 prisoners between October 2003 and March 2005. Some were let out early, while others were let out late... A flaw in computer programming caused State jails to release 8 prisoners anywhere from 39-161 days early, prisoners who were doing time for everything from embezzlement and drugs to bad check writing.'"
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Minor Computer Flaw Frees State Prisoners

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  • Gracious Me! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geomon (78680) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:42PM (#13859073) Homepage Journal
    A whole 39 days early? Shit! They ought to hunt that bastard down and horsewhip them.

    I guess I don't see the 'crisis' in this other than these people were low-level, non-violent offenders. If a software glitch had let a Ted Bundy out for another killing spree, I would probably be more concerned.

    Fact is, we have WAAAAAY too many people in jail as it is. If we were to only charge and incarcerate those who pose a safety risk to the rest of society then you could probably monitor the entire population in half as many facilities with 1/3 of the correctional officers we have today.

    The US incarcerates people largely to punish them for stuff they do to themselves. If someone is strung out on meth or heroin, they are only a problem to me if they steal something to support their habit. Considering the fact that theft is already a crime, I can't see how locking up people who are casual users and functioning addicts helps society at all.

    These prison systems are getting too complex, too expensive, and are locking too many people away for "their own good".

    Rep. Rick Jones: " 8 people is too many. I understand the department found another 15, that's too many, even 1 is too many."

    Fuck that. Notice he shed no tears for the few that were held too long? I'm glad some of them got out early. The only sad thing in this story is that somebody got held longer than they should have.
    • Re:Gracious Me! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:47PM (#13859106)
      The US incarcerates people largely to punish them for stuff they do to themselves. If someone is strung out on meth or heroin, they are only a problem to me if they steal something to support their habit. Considering the fact that theft is already a crime, I can't see how locking up people who are casual users and functioning addicts helps society at all.

      These prison systems are getting too complex, too expensive, and are locking too many people away for "their own good".


      It's essentially the Catholic Justice System. You're locked away not so much because of offenses you commit that harm other people, but for offenses that upset god and baby jesus and mother mary and all that jazz. How else do you explain laws intended to punish 18 year olds having sex with same-sex 15 year olds with 17 years in prison, but punish 18 year olds having sex with female 15 year olds with 15 months in prison? It's all about morality and just because something is considered "immoral" by many doesn't make it harmful to anyone.
      • Re:Gracious Me! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by geomon (78680) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:53PM (#13859158) Homepage Journal
        It's essentially the Catholic Justice System.

        I think the Baptists would take exception at your excluding them from this party. They like controlling people too.

        You're locked away not so much because of offenses you commit that harm other people, but for offenses that upset god and baby jesus and mother mary and all that jazz.

        And it is only getting worse. Every year some dumbass politician screws the whole world up with just six simple words: "There ought to be a law!"

        How else do you explain laws intended to punish 18 year olds having sex with same-sex 15 year olds with 17 years in prison, but punish 18 year olds having sex with female 15 year olds with 15 months in prison?

        You can't. Neither can you rationalize incarcerating a person who does drugs, keeps their job, pays their taxes, and doesn't commit any other criminal offense. They *try* to rationalize it by claiming that "they need treatment" as though the criminal justice system is any substitute for medical therapy.

        It's all about morality and just because something is considered "immoral" by many doesn't make it harmful to anyone.

        Aye. That about sums it up.
      • Re:Gracious Me! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Chrononium (925164) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @08:58PM (#13860713)
        Wow. That statement wasn't laced with intolerance. Naw. I mean, heck, you could even be a Chinese army official carrying out the extermination of Tibetans because well ... their system is religious and therefore silly. Why would anyone want religion when you can offer progress?

        Law is an external deposit of morality. Your idea of deciding if something is immoral is testing to see if it hurts someone. You want law to minimize suffering. You think suffering is a Bad thing (absolute moral qualifier). There are a lot of people who think morality is different. You not only look down upon their beliefs, but also think that your way is better. That your version of morality is better. Sounds like you're the same type of person as those other people ... you care passionately about how to determine good from bad. Law is where society as a whole comes together and lays down the morality of the majority because nearly all functioning human beings care deeply about morality.

        To speak more specifically on the idea of incarcerating adults (18 year olds) who have sex with minors (less than 18 years old), you could always consider the utilitarian argument. For the most part, 18 year olds have a chance at economic freedom, the ability to support themselves independent of their parents -- a productive member of a capitalist society. A minor does not necessarily have that same freedom (because of other laws, like child labor laws). That restriction is important because it sends a clear signal to those tempted to drop out of school that there will be barriers (and also theoretically involves the parents, implying a certain strength of the family). Why would you drop out of school? Because you're pregnant or because you're suffering from the emotional and psychological issues generated from considering and implementing abortion. High school drop outs usually are a liability to society, unable to produce much with their lives (they influence limited amounts of happiness). That family having to support their child for a longer period of time will spend less money. Furthermore, this effects the amount of retirement funds allocated to the family and to the child. A high school graduate will not be able to put in as much into the social security system as a college graduate. This stresses an already stressed (perhaps even broken) system. This law is in support of family. And that isn't just a moral statement, but a measurable economic factor as well. Japan is beginning to show signs of familial breakdown and their health system is having to support more people in their old-age. Same for Europe.

        Don't assume the problem is so small.
        • Re:Gracious Me! (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mdwh2 (535323)
          Law is an external deposit of morality. Your idea of deciding if something is immoral is testing to see if it hurts someone. You want law to minimize suffering. You think suffering is a Bad thing (absolute moral qualifier). There are a lot of people who think morality is different. You not only look down upon their beliefs, but also think that your way is better. That your version of morality is better.

          Law and morality, althoug related, are not the same thing. If you think that actions which don't harm othe
      • Re:Gracious Me! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Scaba (183684)

        Actually, it's the Corporate Justice System. Prisoners make fine cheap laborers [inthesetimes.com] for a good number of American corporations, as well as a profit center for said corporations and privately run correctional facilities. Now do you understand why having some reefer is an imprisonable offense? It's always the dollars. (Not surprisingly, Tom DeLay has profitted from prison profit centers. Hopefully someone will now profit from his imminent incarceration...)

    • If we were to only charge and incarcerate those who pose a safety risk to the rest of society then you could probably monitor the entire population in half as many facilities with 1/3 of the correctional officers we have today.

      Writers of bad checks are gravely dangerous to society. They hurt the economy. And yes, that is very important -- unless you are prepared to argue against locking up rogue CEOs too.

      The reason this bug did not let any serious crooks out early is, probably, because there is more hum

      • Writers of bad checks are gravely dangerous to society.

        I never said that they had *no* impact on society, but measured against violent offenders, check kiters are peanuts.

        You also forgot to mention that people like mega-corp CEOs will do more damage to the economy than the average check kiter. How much time do all of the convicted CEOs do collectivly? I'll bet it is only a fraction of what your average petty thief gets. That kind of differential only makes the public more suspicious of the criminal justice
        • Deterrance?
          • Thank you! Some people just refuse to get it.
            • Except that prison is a lousy way to achieve deterrance, see your sibling poster.
              • by Jesus_666 (702802) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @05:10PM (#13859642)
                Why, the American legal system certainly does a good job deterring me from ever moving there...
              • Re:Gracious Me! (Score:3, Informative)

                by Martin Blank (154261)
                It's seemed to work fairly well for the past dozen or so years as prison sentences, particularly for violent felonies, have gotten stiffer and fewer inmates have been released. This tracks reasonably well with the decrease in violent crime. Even as the economy soured at the end of 2000/beginning of 2001 and continued to remain soft for the next couple of years, crimes didn't increase all that much.
    • Excatly, Rep. Rick Jones is a pompous ass, if you look at his previous statements you see the pattern. He could care less about the innocent in jail or those that server a longer sentence than they are supposed to. But then this is very typical of the politicians. If they can jump on the uproar bandwagon or start one they can keep their name out there for election time.

      It's not about laws, leadership, truth, or democracy... It's about how much can I get my name in the press and in front of voters so they
      • He could care less about the innocent in jail

        How much less could he care? A lot less? So, since he could care less, that means that he does care more about the innocent in jail than he does about other things (though you're not saying which).
    • Talk about confusing the issue.

      At stake is the integrity of the system. It can just as well release a Ted Bundy early, or keep someone an extra decade.
      • Talk about confusing the issue.

        How so?

        At stake is the integrity of the system.

        When we reach the point where we need sophisticated computer systems to track release dates for the number of prisoners we have, then perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the criminal justice system.

        I guess the number of people we incarcerate is irrelevant to you? I don't want to put words in your mouth, but you've offered criticism without showing me where I've confused the issue.

        If we incarcerated only a couple of thousand prisone
        • You continue to confuse the issue. The article and this discussion is talking about one thing, and you're going off in a tangent about something else.

          At issue is the INTEGRITY of the computer system, which keeps track of when a prisoner is allowed out. If it's so buggy that it lets criminals out early, it can also keep prisoners longer than it should.

          However, just because a computer system has bugs doesn't mean you should go and throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead you fix the system and apply
          • It seems you have an ulterior motive.

            I guess expecting you to explain your points is a "motive".

            You just don't want prison to exist, so that all these violent criminals can be let out and free to terrorize the country.

            And I can also assume that you are a retard in that my earliest post specifically excluded any discussion of releasing violent criminals.

            (ploink!)
          • Exactly. Computer systems shouldn't be treated as flawless, because they rarely ever are. At my university, they kept all the records on paper, as well as on the computer system. The paper was the official record. I'm pretty sure they kept back ups of both the paper and digital records. The paper records were computer printed forms that were filled in by hand. Basically, they were aware that computers could have errors, or have changes done to the records that could go unnoticed.
    • Re:Gracious Me! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LaughingCoder (914424)
      Fact is, we have WAAAAAY too many people in jail as it is

      That reminds me of a funny headline in the NYTimes. Paraphrased it said:

      Jails overflowing despite record low crime rates!"

      I doubled over laughing. The Times brainiacs actually didn't understand how the jails could have so many people in them when crime was down so much. Obviously, they deduced, this proved that the Bush administration was locking up innocent people. In reality they were actually too stupid (or blinded by their biases) to real
      • Re:Gracious Me! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geomon (78680)
        In reality they were actually too stupid (or blinded by their biases) to realize that crime was down BECAUSE the jails were full. Cause and affect. Go figure.

        Yes, crime is down for several categories of the penal code. But if you keep adding categories, then the jails will never see a decrease in prison population.

        There are too many offenses that require jail time.
      • Oh please. Forgive me if I find your explanation of the article and its headline to be difficult to believe. Something tells me there were probably several pieces of nuance you are neglecting to mention, and a substantially less idiotic headline than you implying.

        Why must you angry right-wing nutjobs flap your arms about misrepresenting liberals as a bunch of idiots to make yourselves look right? You are so obviously attacking a straw man, it's not even funny.

        And I fail to see what high prison occupancy
    • Re:Gracious Me! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ironsides (739422)
      Fact is, we have WAAAAAY too many people in jail as it is. If we were to only charge and incarcerate those who pose a safety risk to the rest of society then you could probably monitor the entire population in half as many facilities with 1/3 of the correctional officers we have today.

      Unfortunately, some people who are not dangerous are not detered by anything short of prison. Even after some prison time, some will still repeat the offense. Look up Maricopa County's Tent City Jail.
      • Unfortunately, some people who are not dangerous are not detered by anything short of prison. Even after some prison time, some will still repeat the offense.

        How many of those repeat offenders are drug cases? How many are property violations? How many are violent offenders?

        My point is that if someone is only harming themselves, why should I be asked to shell out my hard-earned cash to lock them up? I'd rather they were holding down a job, helping grow the economy, and paying their OWN fucking taxes.
      • Jail me all you want, you won't stop me smoking pot.
  • by mi (197448) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:42PM (#13859078) Homepage
    I too would be tempted to, say, compare a hash of the prisoner's name with that of mine...
  • by Seumas (6865) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:43PM (#13859081)
    On the bright side, they'll be getting their free subsidized digital television converter boxes any day now. Welcome to freedom, gentlemen!
  • by Omnieiunium (872399) <canadiancanuck&gmail,com> on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:46PM (#13859104) Journal
    because it is free!!!!

    I am sorry. Very sorry.
  • Minor Flaw? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by futurekill (745161) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:47PM (#13859107)
    What the hell is considered a major flaw?
    • is password
    • If they suddenly got their sentence shifted from 15 monthes, to Death Penalty, or life without parole by the computer (and vice-versa). Just a wild guess...
    • Re:Minor Flaw? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nametaken (610866)
      What the hell is considered a major flaw?

      When a stock market crashes.

      When a smartbomb hits a daycare.

      When people are given the wrong blood type at the hospital.

      This is minor, no bones about it.
      • This is minor, no bones about it.

        But this system doesn't manage the stock market, guide smartbombs, or manage blood banks. It's a supposed to manage a prison population's incarceration terms. Given that, flaws don't really get any more major than getting those terms wrong. I suppose they could have been off by MORE time, but imprisoning someone for even a day longer than the courts decided was appropriate for their crime is MAJORLY wrong.
    • This, with leopards.
  • Minor glitch ? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zappepcs (820751)
    I hope the software is run on Windows... If my bank was off by that much even once, I'd get a new bank!

    I'm not saying that mistakes don't happen, but that's bad! Fortunately no one like John Wayne Gayce was let out mistakenly.

    What are the odds that the 'software glitch' has a SSN and enjoys fast food?

    • If I were the guys released late, I'd definately get incarcerated in another jurisdiction next time ... maybe someplace with the early release bug instead.
    • /. is great... just how do you get to be offtopic AND insightful?

      No, while bankers might be criminals, the point was that even if the mistake was something so small as my bank account, I'd get a different bank. Letting criminals go early is bad, and letting them go late is a crime in its own right, though some might disagree.
  • by dclaw (593370) * on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:49PM (#13859128) Homepage
    they would end my probation early!
    • "to release 8 prisoners anywhere from 39-161 days early, prisoners who were doing time for everything from embezzlement and drugs to bad check writing."

      Doing time for bad code writing was not mentioned.
  • Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chickenofbristol55 (884806) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:50PM (#13859132) Homepage
    Even though it was only a month early, who is to say this "minor.... ahem" computer glitch couldn't let people go years earlier than planned. Also, shouldn't jails use both computer and physical data to make absolutely sure they are doing things properly? I know someone is going to comment to this saying that I'm wrong and that it would take too much space for all those filing cabinets, but I say that this is a perfect example of how I'm right. If they had another medium to check their data, this minor computer glitch could have been found and fixed, with no mess-ups.
    • Chickenofbristol55 wrote:

      I know someone is going to comment to this saying that I'm wrong and that it would take too much space for all those filing cabinets, but I say that this is a perfect example of how I'm right. If they had another medium to check their data, this minor computer glitch could have been found and fixed, with no mess-ups.

      Right now the jails are fighting for adequate storage space for the inmates. We could put the paper files in the jail cells to promote literacy. Once you learn to rea

    • Yeah, they should permanently tattoo the release dates on their foreheads...
  • Microsoft: Minor Computer Flaws Imprison Free States

  • by totallygeek (263191) <sellis@totallygeek.com> on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:50PM (#13859140) Homepage
    Uh, if I were doing time, you better believe I would be aware of my official release date!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 23, 2005 @04:17PM (#13859300)
      Having had a "friend" involved in the corrections system I find the article missing some key information. Most states hand out time with both a minimum and a maximum sentence. So, far example, one might get a 3 1/2 to 7 year sentence. This means you may get out on parole after 3 1/2 years but if they don't want to let you go they can keep you 7 years. Also, sometimes one could get time taken off the minimum sentence for participating in various "programs" or for "good behaviour" but the max usually stays where it started. So, what I want to know is this: Did they keep them earlier/later than their minimum sentence or maximum sentence? If one got kept later than their minimum sentence, there is no legal recourse because technically they can keep you to the max. If they let you out before your minimum sentence then they really screwed up in letting you out earlier. If they let you out later then your maximum sentence then they really screwed up and could face a lawsuit. Anything in the middle would just suck for one side, but not be a legal issue.
  • by CyricZ (887944) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:52PM (#13859151)
    Can anyone provide more technical information regarding this flaw? What sort of hardware were these systems running on? What operating system(s)? Who wrote the software itself, what language was it written in, and what was the exact cause of the flaw? Was it a database flaw? If so, which database product was it?

    Indeed, we need more technical details.

    • closed source, a EULA was clicked on

      You'll need to pay $375.00 for the PDF with any details.

    • by xenotrout (680453) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @04:44PM (#13859467) Homepage Journal

      The problem seems to be more than software or hardware. A state law created a sentence-length committee or ruleset that was not fully communicated to the Department of Corrections (DOC). The DOC tried to interpret the information they had and came up with a manual for calculating a prisoner's release date. This manual includes two non-automated methods of calculating a simple release date, and some informal rules for calculating release dates in general. The DOC later wrote (or contracted out the writing of) the program that automatically calculates release dates.

      The audit being reported compared the computer computation with the two non-automated methods and found that none of the three gave the same results. Not only was the software inconsistant with the manual, but the manual was self-inconsistant. The software may have actually used the right calculation, but the audit seemed unable to determine what the right calculation was (because of the confusing state law mentioned earlier).

      • I read the PDF, but it still doesn't outline what exactly the problem was, even if it was most likely a software bug. Was it an incorrectly written strftime-style routine? Was it a non-library problem manipulating the dates? Did the compiler emit incorrect code? Was the data being stored incorrectly in the database? Was the database a lossy database, losing or unknowingly modified data?

        • Read the post you replied to. It was none of those things. The people writing the software didn't know what the rules for calculating the release date were. So they coded what they thought was right, but it was wrong. This has nothing to do with software -- the software did what it was supposed to. It just so happened that nobody actually knew how to calculate release dates properly.
  • if((rand() % 2) == 0) sentence -= (rand() % 123 + 39); Either that or memory corruption. I'd bet on the former :-D
  • by billsoxs (637329) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:55PM (#13859173) Journal
    About 9 months ago, The Dallas (county) Sheriff's office installed a new prisoner tracking program and LOST some of the prisoners. No, they did not let them out, they were still in jail but they could not find them. (Even the prisoner's lawyers could not find them!) Here is an example: http://www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/dn/latestnews/stor ies/052905dnmetjailstuck.f2f1f79c.html [dallasnews.com]
  • Let out late... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sholden (12227) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @03:59PM (#13859198) Homepage
    I'd be more worried about those that got let out late. Surely that's ground for a lawsuit and some damages. Not to mention ciminal charges against those that illegally kept people in prison.

  • by infolib (618234) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @04:10PM (#13859265)
    The real victims in this case are the ones who were kept longer in jail without conviction. It's quite scary that no one at WLNS apparently cares about them. A toast to the future of the american justice system. I hope it has one.
  • So can someone please explain to me why "bad check writing" can land you in jail? This is not a rhetorical question, I seriously want to know. Is it considered fraud? It sounds a bit like debtors' jail, which is outlawed in this country, right?
    • Why wouldn't it? Yes, it's fraud - unlike situations where you were *voluntarily* extended credit. If you don't repay a debt, it's ultimately the problem for the person or business that chose to take the *risk* that you'd repay as promised. If you write a check, you're signing a paper promising that the amount of funds written on it will be paid. If those funds really aren't there, you've misrepresented the situation. In a way, it's much more akin to paying with counterfeit money you printed up in adva
      • What what? Woah. Like paying with counterfeit money? Not really.

        "PAY X AMOUNT TO THE ORDER OF X PERSON."

        That sounds like an order to someone, not a promise. IE, it doesnt say "I have sufficient funds in this negotiable draft account to pay this person X amount, and X person should be allowed to withdraw this amount on demand." If that's what they want me to agree to, then my check should have to say that. It says it for credit cards...
  • by bahwi (43111)
    The summary emphasizes the let out early part, as does the title. But hey, I'm not so pissed about that, but "while others were let out late" really pisses me off. If you can't even tell them what punishment they're going to receive at most 100% of the time, then there are major issues that need to be resolved.
  • by J0nne (924579) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @04:56PM (#13859543)
    I have two questions:
    1. Why don't they check the (paper!) documents they got from the judge or whoever to check if they really were sheduled to go out that day?
    2. Why didn't those let out late complain? I'm sure the first thing they did when they got there, was circling the date they were sheduled to get out on their calender. (or whatever paper they have handy). How can they not notice that they passed that date by x weeks?

    This story as usually raises more questions than it answers...

    OT rant: Damn you, shallow news outlets! If a plane crashes, we get every small detail about what happened on which second, and what systems failed, but when it's about computer problems, all they can tell us is a 'glitch' or a 'crash' happened because they think it would be 'too technical'. Just tell exactly what the problem was, and if people don't understand completely, it's not going to kill them.
  • by stvangel (638594) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @05:05PM (#13859598)
    This says nothing about the underlying problem. Was the release date incorrectly scheduled from the start? Did it change mysteriously while the person was incarcerated? Did the system just incorrectly say "Release this guy" on a random day? Did it give the wrong person to be released? If so, was there any similarities between the two inmates? There just isn't enough information here to make any guesses.

    Was it a contractor or an in-house developed project would also be interesting. As well as what happened to the inmates who were released late? Is it just "tough luck" for them?

    Does anyone have any additional information?
  • ... "minor glitches". the sorts that cost banks millions in dollars as fractional pennies are gobbled up or cause machines designed to treat cancer with radiotherapy burn and kill patients. if i were a resident of michgan, i'd demand an inquiry and follow it up with at least one big law suit. this should have been discovered and fixed during testing, not deployment.
  • isn't a software to be used at such a sensitive level supposed to be reviewed N number of times before it is deployed? This glitch sounds like it'd have been an easy one to get caught if reviewed by enough eyeballs.

    Oh... what's the mantra for opensource again?

  • developers were liable for their bugs, cells that were emptied because of the glitch wouldn't stay empty very long.
    • developers were liable for their bugs, cells that were emptied because of the glitch wouldn't stay empty very long.

      Perhaps this shold be added to the "No Warranty" section of GPL V3.

  • by kronocide (209440) on Sunday October 23, 2005 @05:31PM (#13859776) Homepage Journal
    ...that once you have served your time you are again a citizen. So why is it more upsetting that criminals are released early than that citizens are kept locked up in prison? I think that is at least as problematic.
  • by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday October 23, 2005 @06:16PM (#13859986)
    "Finally, my parole hearing has come and I'm ready to see my family again!"

    "No, actually, it says here that you're scheduled for execution. Any last requests?"
  • Wow... (Score:4, Funny)

    by TheLink (130905) on Monday October 24, 2005 @08:32AM (#13862904) Journal
    Talk about free software :).

To understand a program you must become both the machine and the program.

Working...